Inside Purdue-Indiana, a basketball-crazed state’s most intense rivalry (2024)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana head coach Mike Woodson knows his team has “a hell of an opponent” waiting on the horizon.

The former Hoosier and Indianapolis native is in his third year at the helm of his alma mater, devising the final touches on a game plan for his fifth go-round on the sidelines of an IU-Purdue clash. His process for preparing as the leader for these games doesn’t change from any other contest, he says.

That doesn’t mean this game doesn’t feature a little extra oomph when first marked on the schedule.

“They want to beat us as badly as we want to beat them,” Woodson said. “It’s been that way. I think it’s great for college basketball.”

The Hoosiers (12-5, 4-2) and No. 2 Boilermakers (15-2, 4-2) are set to do battle Tuesday evening inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The game will stream exclusively on Peaco*ck, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. ET from Bloomington.

A series Purdue leads 125-92 all-time saw Indiana face defeat nine consecutive times before Woodson took the job back home in 2021. So far, so good – the Hoosiers have won three of the first four times the two have squared off under the current coaching regimes. Purdue has entered each contest in the AP Top 10, but all of the IU wins have come with the Boilermakers ranked in the top five.

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With the 218th chapter of one of America’s greatest rivalries set to be written Tuesday, there’s no trophies to hoist and no love to be lost. It’s only two of a basketball-crazed state’s most iconic programs battling for bragging rights and superiority – not just for themselves, but for the ones who identify with them.

Previous records don’t matter. Anywhere from 14,240 to 17,222 people will pack respective home gyms to the gills and rise to noise levels many multiples above that. Hundreds of thousands more with vested rooting interest, some even in a divided house, will put undivided attention toward a TV to watch.

Sometimes, a top team goes down by way of a buzzer-beater. Rob Phinisee is still heralded as a hero for his January 20, 2022 game-winner, hoisted above the floor amongst a sea of students after ending the aforementioned nine-game drought.

Or, as evidenced in 1985, sometimes a coach hurls a chair across the floor.

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Posterizing dunks, inadvertent elbows and flexing over a road crowd are all par for the course. Because in almost every sense, for a couple of nights out of Indiana’s long, cold winters, some sort of must-see drama unfolds with this meeting as the backdrop.

“At the end of the day, people are going to get up and show up for that rivalry,” former Indiana forward Collin Hartman said. “The second you step into that environment, whether it’s in Mackey (Arena) or in Assembly (Hall), it’s another level.”

Hartman heavily considered both schools as a star out of Indianapolis’ Cathedral High School, and until then, his stance on the rivalry was relatively neutral. Ultimately opting for Indiana, he suddenly found an allegiance on one of two sides, just as many others throughout the state do. Having lived through it years later, that once-neutral stance is nowhere to be found.

“It means more than playing, you know, XYZ school because it’s an in-state rivalry,” Hartman said with a chuckle. “One has several national championships, the other doesn’t.

“It’s hard to explain, but Indiana basketball is the Mecca in Indiana. It just is.”

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Jordan Hulls, on the other hand, has never known anything but this game’s significance.

“I have a unique situation where it was right down the street,” Hulls said.

A feature point guard and graduate of Bloomington South High School – just three and a half miles from the gym he’d spend the next four years making his name in – Hulls quickly emerged into his own as one of IU’s leaders amongst the doom and gloom of some of Indiana’s worst seasons in recent memory.

“You learn a whole lot – I don’t want to say more, you do learn some things through winning and success,” Hulls began. “But I think you learn a lot of great things through failure.”

Hulls’ first two IU teams won just 22 games, was 7-29 in Big Ten play and winless in four attempts against the Boilermakers. In his final two seasons, he’d help lead Indiana to back-to-back Sweet 16s, a No. 1 ranking, national title aspirations and two clean sweeps of Purdue.

Back with Indiana now in the midst of a second season on the Hoosiers’ staff, Hulls is IU’s Team and Recruiting Coordinator. At 33, he gave up a playing career he knew still had juice in the tank for the opportunity. Being back on his home floor evokes feelings of nostalgia and hours before tipoff and a change into a suit and tie on any given afternoon, he can be seen out on the floor in a shooting shirt and shorts, putting up jumpers and assisting his proteges in their developmental ascendance.

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From his perspective on the bench, he utilizes his still-present point guard vision to help direct Indiana’s on-court performance. It also grants him insight into the challenges opponents face when playing at Assembly Hall.

It’s tough enough just trying to relay calls from the sidelines to the floor, Hulls says. The two-sided concert hall-like structure directs all sound toward Branch McCracken court, which Hoosier fans take liberty of often.

“You wouldn’t trade the atmosphere for being able to hear calls, right?” Hulls said. “You’d never trade that.”

Nothing meets the combination of rivalry, atmosphere and uniqueness of Assembly Hall or Mackey Arena, Hartman says. Of course, he comes from a basis of bias, but buildings like Cameron Indoor and Madison Square Garden – which he’s played in both – pale in comparison.

“When Assembly Hall is filled with IU fans and going nuts, it feels bigger than life,” Hartman said. “The way everyone is so vertical, everybody’s kind of on top of you when you’re on the court. It can be overwhelming sometimes, I would imagine, as a visiting team.”

Tuesday, 17,000-plus will create a chorus of controlled chaos acting as a volcano on the cusp of eruption for the calendar’s biggest annual matchup. Once inside the building some two hours before tipoff, students and fans alike will be relentless in every aspect of the word. All of that, paired with a planned “white out” inside the building.

“You can’t ask for bigger games than this,” Woodson said. “This is what fans like to see.”

Woodson, now over 40 years removed from the last time he suited up for this game himself, understands that with so many new faces on this year’s iteration of Indiana, it’s his job to calm his team in what projects to be the most intense scene Assembly Hall will see this season.

Why? Sometimes, what’s understood needs no further explanation.

“This is what you dream of as a little kid, hitting buzzer-beater shots against them or whoever,” Hulls said. “It’s really special, and the rivalry is one of the best in the country.

“If you can’t get up for this game, then there’s something wrong with you.”

How to watch Purdue vs. Indiana:

  • When: Tuesday, January 16
  • Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
  • Time: 7:00 PM ET (coverage begins at 6:30 pm ET)
  • Live Stream: Peaco*ck

About the Author
Mason Williams is a senior at Indiana University studying sports media with a specialization in sports journalism, where he is pursuing a career in professional sports writing. He covers football and men’s basketball for Indiana Rivals, as well as baseball and features with The Hoosier Network. Mason also worked with the Atlanta Dream this past summer as a freelance in-house writer in Indianapolis and Chicago.

Inside Purdue-Indiana, a basketball-crazed state’s most intense rivalry (2024)
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